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JUNE 7th 2001 was not only the date of the British general and Ulster local government elections. It was also the date when the Irish people voted on three amendments to their Constitution. One amendment abolished the death penalty and another allowed the formation of an international criminal court. These proved uncontroversial. However, the vote on the Treaty of Nice was a different matter. The whole of the Leinster House political establishment, the Irish Catholic hierarchy, big business and the bureaucrats in charge of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions all called for a Yes vote. The No campaign was run by a disparate coalition of the largely disenfranchised Catholic nationalist right, the Green Party and other environmentalists, the remnants of the old left and Sinn Féin. Together they gave the pro-European establishment a well-deserved bloody nose. We have little time or sympathy for Sinn Féin, but on this issue they are absolutely right! The Treaty of Nice is a treaty too far. It shifts the balance of power within the EU to the inner core of larger states.
In 1997, the Taoiseach reneged on a pre-election pledge to hold a referendum on Éire's participation in the Nato-led 'Partnership for Peace'. This arrogant stroke upset a lot of people, given the iconic nature that neutrality has for most Irish folk. The consequences of the broken PfP pledge have returned to haunt Bertie Ahern and his government.
In campaigning for a Yes vote, Ahern tried to convince Irish voters that they had a "moral duty" to vote to expand the powers and geographic scope of the European Union. Ahern stated that "We cannot, in conscience, pull up the ladder behind us. It would be mean-spirited in the extreme to deny the applicant states the right to share in the benefits." But the Amsterdam Treaty already allows for five new countries to join the EU without any further treaty changes. Ireland’s EU Commissioner, Mr David Byrne, called for a close examination of the reasons behind the result. "I believe there is considerable confusion about the Nice Treaty, what it means and more particularly what its implications are. This is not unique to Ireland." This arrogant man would have us believe that understanding the Treaty would automatically cause men and women to agree with the Treaty in its entirety. As with our own Good Friday Agreement, we take the view that if more people bothered to read the documents that their political elites want to impose on them, there would be a greater chance that support for the EU is likely to evaporate even further.
Poor Bertie. Now his friends – his fellow European heads of government – are upset with him. Ahern’s statements display a misunderstanding of the nature of politics and economics. Ahern and an anonymous EU bureaucrat all made the same remark – No voters don’t want to give welfare benefits to Eastern Europeans. This is a lie.
We note that the Irish Times claims that Mr Ahern and his EU counterparts are discussing how best to lay the ground for what will almost certainly be a second referendum on the treaty before the end of the 2002 deadline. Anthony Coughlan of the anti-Nice National Platform has rightly described this suggestion as "shameful". The EU's version of 'democracy' is interesting. Vote the way the Eurocrats want and your vote stands for ever like the laws of the Medes and the Persians. Vote against their wishes and your vote is very provisional. As happened with the Danish vote on the Maastricht Treaty, you will be made to vote again and again until such times as your resistance is worn down and you finally give the expected right answer.
The good news is that the Leinster House establishment and the Eurocrats are already starting to annoy a lot of Irish folk by their arrogant dismissal of the voters' verdict. There is no guarantee that the Irish people will perform to order the next time either!
David Kerr, (June 2001)
Update, January 2002
LAST JUNE, Éire’s electorate embarrassed its political elite. The popular vote against the Nice Treaty went against all their predictions and stymied the attempts of the Eurocrats to take even more power away from the member states. The Eurocrats’ view of ‘democracy’ is novel. ‘Democracy’ is anything that advances their aim, so a genuinely democratic vote against them is deemed as an obstacle to be overcome rather than time to take stock and choose another path. The Treaty must be ratified before the end of 2002 or fall, so they want the Nice referendum rerun and the result fixed in their favour. They take the line that when they are defeated fairly and squarely within the rules, that the rules must be changed.
Garret Fitzgerald, the former Taoiseach, claims that a lot of voters were ‘inadequately informed’ on the issues, and that ‘nothing could be more democratic than to offer them a further opportunity to consider again’ this issue. According to Mr Fitzgerald, ‘Those opposed to a further referendum are simply seeking to impose their view upon the electorate as a whole.’ [Irish Times, 5/1/02]. Great stuff, Garret, and while you’re at it, can I have a rerun of the vote on the ‘Good Friday Agreement’? I am finding it hard to find anyone who admits to having voted for it in 1998!
The Dublin politicians are already trying to overcome the will of the people. A new Referendum Bill is going through the Dáil that will undermine the Referendum Commission so that both sides of a question will no longer be heard equally. The Dublin government will then get more State funding to finance its own point of view, while the impoverished No campaigners will have to struggle for every penny.